Finally, after 17 years, America has started to pull out its forces from Afghanistan. On 20 December, President Donald Trump directed the Pentagon to withdraw half of its troops deployed in Afghanistan. The announcement came right after the two days marathon peace talks sessions arranged by Pakistan in the United Arab Emirate after the request of Americans.
In Abu Dhabi, after pressing the Taliban for a six-month ceasefire by America, the Taliban demonstrated readiness to think about a ceasefire if Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Pakistan become the guarantors and their nominated person appointed as the head of an interim setup. The Taliban leader revealed that withdrawal of NATO forces, exchange of prisoners and end of the military operations were discussed during the talks. Regardless of America’s desire, the Taliban did not show any interest to talk directly with the Afghan government.
In July, after the unprecedented Eid ceasefire, the Taliban rejected the Kabul’s invitation to talk directly with Afghan government by saying that the Afghan government had no legitimacy and was just an American’s puppet. After denial of the Taliban to sit with the 12-person afghan delegation, Zalmay Khalilzad in a TV interview, expressed doubts about the Taliban’s willingness to end the war. He said, “If the Taliban are really seeking peace, they have to sit with the Afghan government ultimately to reach an agreement on the future political settlement in Afghanistan.”
Notwithstanding, the Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid welcomed the decision of withdrawal of half force saying that the major point of negotiation with the US envoy was the withdrawal of all US and NATO troops from Afghanistan. He further said while referring to the US-led the international military mission that ‘the biggest obstacle in the way peace is the occupation of Afghanistan and bringing it to an end’.
Indeed, America has lost the war but difficult for the president to admit this reality. Despite Trumps’ recently announced South Asia Policy, Pentagon has been desperately searching for a way out since the beginning of the year 2018. In July, first face-to-face meeting between Taliban and US diplomat in Qatar marked a major turnaround in Trump’s policy. It was after first three days ceasefire during Eid, Taliban’s six members delegation met with State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Allice Wells in Doha.
Both, the Taliban and US agreed to meet again to resolve the issue of Afghanistan through dialogue. Afterward, in September, Zalmay Khalilzad was appointed as President Trump’s special adviser to Afghanistan. Zalmay Khalilzad is actually a native Afghanistan and had been served as US ambassador since 2003-2005 after the fall of Taliban regime. His main task was to initiate a real reconciliation process between the Afghan Government and the Taliban.
Before the Doha talks, Moscow talks on Afghanistan issue were being held in which 11 countries participated that could gain a sort of Taliban’s de facto recognition. Taliban, after 17 years of war, have got more recognition from the international community.
In August 2017, President Trump made a seemingly bluffing statement that ‘the Taliban and IS need to know that they have nowhere to hide, that no place is beyond the reach of American might and American arms.
Now, this paradigm shift in President Trump strategy for Afghanistan could be the outcome of rational calculation of Taliban’s power and influence in Afghanistan. Despite the presence of strong and technically advance NATO forces, the Taliban hold more than a half of the country’s territory and are as powerful right as they were since the US invasion in October 2001.
Nevertheless, the issue of Afghanistan direly calls for a regional approach. It seems through recent instant development as if America is again in a hurry to get rid of the Afghan imbroglio due to its economic and military damages. But then why the implications of such a “shameful flight” for the regional stakeholders are not being taken into serious considerations? Four major powers of the region are China, Russia, Pakistan, and India have divergent strategic outlook towards war-torn Afghanistan.
Especially the withdrawal will sprout up a series of insecurities for India. In close coordination with Northern Alliance and US-backed regime, Indians have gamble huge investment in the country while it never enjoyed positive relations with the Taliban.
That’s why the country concerned the most with Trump’s decision in India. Needless to mention that India has been using Afghan soil to destabilize Pakistan and now it may have a vibe that it may have to reap whatever it has been sowing for years. China has also been enjoying cordial, productive and stable ties with Kabul particularly since after they inked a treaty in 2006.
China sees peace and stability in Afghanistan a must to fulfill its dreams of one belt one road and CPEC initiatives. Being the biggest investor after America, China appears committed to play a greater and positive role in post-withdrawal Afghanistan.
Russia’s concerns over the presence of ISIS as a major threat for central Asian Republics, also hold water. Withdrawal without a regional consensus may be detrimental to the balance of power in the region.
Russia is rendering expeditious efforts to create new alliances and to deepen and widen partnerships with regional powers to thwart the perceived security threats and also to cope with the emerging geo-economic and geopolitical challenges. The peaceful and stable Afghanistan is necessary not just for its people but also for the prosperity and economic development the whole region.
The writer belongs to an Islamabad based think tank Centre of Peace and Social Studies. He can be reached at email@example.com.